Special to Inside Arabia
The investigation itself centered on one plant near the northern city of Tripoli which, quite apart from swallowing a massive 2.5 million euros to build and equip with entirely bogus composting drums—which never produced even a handful of compost—was set up in a hurry by an inept and arrogant Lebanese government official who incriminated himself in an interview with the journalist by admitting that the plant’s compost was probably toxic and that “corruption” is a real problem. This official at the heart of allegations of graft dismissed the same drums for which he paid as “bogus technology,” while admitting that USAID has been using them for years in Lebanon without incident.
simply bypassed a number of critical environmental warnings, uncovered in a study which the EU delegation tried to block the journalist from seeing.
The government agency that handled the tender and awarded it to a company which had no experience whatsoever to build a “composting drum”—in preference to another company which had a proven track record—was in such a hurry to hand the cash over, that it simply bypassed a number of critical environmental warnings, uncovered in a study which the EU delegation tried to block the journalist from seeing. Those same recommendations, such as taking water samples in the area as a reference so in future years toxicologists can monitor if the plants’ compost being put back into landfills is destroying the environment and causing public health concerns, are still not being heeded even today.
The penchant of the EU’s local delegation to overlook such basic measures, or even to create an independent committee of environmental experts to vet the companies trying to get their hands on the quick cash, is shocking. It is also, some would argue, an indictment of culpability. The situation is now drawing the attention of OLAF and Federica Mogherini, who has visited Lebanon many times and who will not want to leave office with a cloud over her head, tainting her legacy.
Unlike the very recent scandal of millions of euros being embezzled by the Czech Republic’s billionaire prime minister Andrej Babis, who used EU agricultural aid to build a swanky conference center, the Lebanon scandal is closer to Mogherini: the aid in question is handled by her own team.
The former Italian foreign ministers’ appointment in 2009 as the EU’s chief foreign policy chief and European Commission Vice president was controversial as she was expected to champion a 1 billion euro budget for a new diplomatic service made up of 140 EU “ambassadors” around the world, aimed at pushing the EU dream of hegemony in the developing world. In Lebanon, the appointment of Lassen is an important one as this tiny country has the potential to give Brussels a real headache if it were to decide to kick out the Syrian refugees. The power Hezbollah has in the region and the EU’s warm relations with Iran are also important.
Mogherini was chosen by the European Socialist block in the European parliament which wanted one of their own in the top job, a woman, and one from a Mediterranean country. Gomes is from the same political bloc. Thus, Gomes’s letter and the explosive charges in it, sent to Mogherini will likely be taken seriously. Indeed, it will be hard for the EU chief to block an OLAF investigation—one which may well create a momentum of accountability in the EU towards overseas aid money in hundreds of countries around the world.
The mere assertion in the journalist’s article that Hezbollah was part of the money grabbing scheme will be the cause of some concern by Mogherini and whoever takes over her post in November. US state department officials are certainly likely to raise the point with the new EU chief, given that the aid scam going back 14 years was masterminded by a Lebanese government agency which has had more than its fair share of Hezbollah-aligned ministers—all of whom, just like Lassen, do not miss an opportunity to take to the podium and give speeches about the importance of press freedom and the importance of the fourth estate.
the incendiary 150-page study which, when finally obtained, revealed a shocking disregard for, if not criminal irresponsibility by the EU over the plants’ construction.
However, they also have evidenced a real phobia of western journalists’ requests for interviews or even answering straight forward questions. Lassen, over a period of almost a year, never replied to any questions put to her about the plants, but referred all enquiries to her environment officer who himself blocked the article’s author from obtaining what has turned out to be the smoking gun—the incendiary 150-page study which, when finally obtained, revealed a shocking disregard for, if not criminal irresponsibility by the EU over the plants’ construction.
The legal question raised by Gomes’s letter is important. Her call for OLAF to carry out an investigation could possibly lead to prosecutions of EU officials and Lebanese government officials, action which legal experts in Beirut have called for.
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This is Part II of a two-part article regarding this unprecedented investigation.